Parliament: First National Reading Day to be held on July 30 to help nurture love of books

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Visitors at the library@orchard. The National Library Board will mark Singapore's first National Reading Day on July 30. ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE - From bringing special books to the offices of working adults to transforming an MRT train into a mobile digital library, the National Library Board (NLB) is going all out to woo readers.

This year, the NLB is starting a National Reading Movement to encourage people here to read, and will on July 30 mark Singapore's first National Reading Day.

It will also conduct a nationwide survey on reading habits to better understand how to promote reading in Singapore.

The push to get more people to read comes amid survey results that paint a sobering picture of the reading rate here.

A survey by the National Arts Council conducted over a 12-month period from March 2014 found that only 44 per cent of respondents had read at least one "literary book" a year. Another survey by the NLB in July 2015 showed that only half of Singapore residents had used library services in the past year, with numbers dropping as they age.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament on Monday that the NLB has identified three priorities: reaching out to new audiences, placing more focus on reading in the mother tongue languages, and expanding its network of partners to better court readers.

Adults are one of the NLB's targets this year, he said, adding: "While many adults visit our libraries, we often see them borrowing books for their children, more so than for themselves! We want to help adults rediscover the joy of reading for themselves so as to be a role model for their children."

Work commitments might make it a challenge for them to find time to pick up a book, so the NLB is looking to "bring books to people, instead of merely encouraging people to come to the books".

It plans to help adults in the office and on the move find an opportunity to read by, for one, curating and pushing out short reads and articles for commuters to read on their mobile devices. Later in the year, NLB and the Land Transport Authority will launch a library-themed MRT train - "a train which will not only take you to the libraries, but also functions as a library".

On this train, users can scan QR codes with their mobile devices to download recommended e-books over the NLB mobile app, or access content like short essays during their train journey. NLB is also tapping on social media: it will run a Spot-A-Reader campaign, hoping to recognise and encourage readers on board the train.

Reading will enter the workplace too. NLB is partnering organisations in a new Read@Work programme, which will be tailored to the businesses of the companies involved. NLB will, among other things, curate reads on common management topics, industry trends, and short pieces of fiction. Some of the partners it is already working with include DBS and NTUC U Associate.

NLB is also targeting seniors - a group identified by the NLB survey as the least frequent library users, with only 24 per cent of those aged 60 and above visiting public libraries, and less than 20 per cent borrowing library materials.

It is looking at expanding its range of reading programmes for seniors and bringing books to those who may be unable to drop by the library. NLB plans to start book clubs and set up more reading corners in community-owned centres, doubling outreach to Senior Activity Centres by 2020.

Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) had asked for libraries to be made more accessible, especially in new estates, and Dr Yaacob said if residents in a new estate without a library are keen to set up an "interim" one, NLB will lend a hand. It can provide a seed collection and equip volunteers with the know-how to run this interim library independently.

This is already being done in Sengkang, where the Sengkang Public Library is temporarily closed due to renovations at Compass Point. Volunteers have instead set up a community library in a container, with books from the NLB.

On efforts to encourage reading in Chinese, Malay and Tamil, NLB will double the number of mother tongue language reading clubs in all languages, from the current five to a total of 10 by this year. It also plans to enhance the collections of books in these mother tongue languages, and will set up groups of reading advisors to provide recommendations on Chinese, Malay and Tamil collections and reading programmes.

A two-month campaign to get people to pledge to read will take place this June and July to kickstart the National Reading Movement. Organisations and educational institutions will also be invited to take part in the pledging activities.

These will culminate in Singapore's inaugural National Reading Day on July 30.

Said Dr Yaacob: "We hope to focus the nation's attention on reading, and to encourage busy Singaporeans to set aside time to read by creating opportunities for people to read together."

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